Jul 112012

Part 4 of 4 | Photoshop Processing

A lot of the techniques I describe here are most likely possible in other image editing programs but my only real experience is with Photoshop so hopefully it is easily translatable if you are using something else. I’m going to assume you have a working knowledge of Photoshop. This includes converting your raw files and getting them into Photoshop. If you are a complete beginner you will probably be lost but this isn’t a Photoshop beginner’s guide. I’ll also be focusing on a few Photoshop plugins that can greatly enhance your processing capabilities. There are some freeware tools we will be looking at too for stacking purposes. These will all be done in video format so I apologize if my monotone voice puts you to sleep.

Stacking with DeepSkyStacker

If you have more than just light frames you can use the freeware program DeepSkyStacker. I explain the basics in the below video. Note you will probably have to switch it to 720p or 1080p and go fullscreen to be able to read anything.

Basic Processing

The easiest ways to immediately improve your image are to neutralize the sky background (basically white balancing) and correctly setting black and white levels. I also discuss how you can bring out more structure in things like the milky way or nebulosity. Note you will probably have to switch it to 720p or 1080p and go fullscreen to be able to read anything.


Noise Reduction Plugins

The Photoshop noise reduction plugins discussed in this video are Nik Dfine 2.0 (also available at Adorama), PictureCode Noise Ninja, and Topaz DeNoise (my favorite one). Either plugin will serve you well and are much better than the default noise reduction that ships with many image editing programs. Note you will probably have to switch it to 720p or 1080p and go fullscreen to be able to read anything.

StarSpikes Pro plugin

This little plugin is a way to add some character to your stars with Diffraction spikes and glow effects. It’s available from their website. Note you will probably have to switch it to 720p or 1080p and go fullscreen to be able to read anything.

Stacking Star Trails

Here is a quick little video to show you how to stack multiple-exposure Star Trail images using the free Startrails application.

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed this guide and it encouraged you to try your hand at Astrophotography. Please leave comments with your feedback and let me know if there’s anything big that I missed, anything I should change or if there’s more tutorials you want to see.

Links of Interest

These are some links suggested by readers.

Magic Lantern Firmware – Custom firmware for the Canon 5D MKII, T1i/T2i/T3i or 50d/60d and potentially more. This is a custom firmware that can add an in camera intervalometer, longer exposures, more shutter speeds, ISOs, and more.
Canon Hack Development Kit – Allows you to take RAW exposures and have full manual control with many Canon “point and shoot” cameras. This may make some of them viable for some forms of Astrophotography.
Another Barn Door Tracker – A third design for the home made barn door tracker.
Backyard EOS – Camera control software for Canon DSLRs (hook up your DSLR to a laptop and take pictures from there)
Astronomy for Beginners – Resource for both observing and astrophotography for beginners.

  22 Responses to “How To Guide: Astrophotography with a DSLR”

  1. Very interesting, just what I needed, especially a list of first targets which I asked for everywhere and get different responses, some very difficult to achieve for me, like M81/m82. My next question sis, what lenses to use on those not specified?

    • Wow M81 and M81 are quite challeging, how did that work out for you? I am still practicing on the moon and jupiter..Now that m42 and M31 are up they are my next targets..even the m31 pic on this article took a lot more skill than a beginner can hope for..

  2. Hello. I love your tutorials. I do have a question. I’m using a Canon Rebel XS and the highest ISO I can get on the camera is 1600. What can I do to get closer and not have the star blur? I tried using my 300mm lens to get the Orion Nebula but it didn’t come out on the Deep Sky Stacker.


    • Try to put your canon in f3•5 then put a speed of 30s instead of bulb option
      Then you can see some changes in your next result

  3. One question, does one have to adjust the white balance? I’ve heard you should take a shot of the night sky and use that for custom white balance. Should it be a 30 sec exposure too? Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the write-up. This is exactly what I am currently trying to get into. I hope my little G.E.M. will be up to the task.

  5. Brilliant work. One small tip for everyone, well it works for me. I live in a semi rural enviroment, with fairly dark skies, and there is a house about 150 metres down the road with an illuminated intruder alarm. To get my focus, i focus on his alarm in autofocus, then switch to manual. This could be done on any external light, street lamp etc.

  6. I have been researching astrophotography for only a week and it has been some what overwhelming. This article breaks it down perfectly and I now have the confidence to purchase equipment and start giving it a try. Great write up.

  7. Great article, really well written and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve got a Polarie and I use a Velbon QHD-33Q as recommended in the manual. However following recommendations I ordered a manfrotto 496RC2 ball head but it doesn’t fit the Polarie as it has a bigger whole for the screw. How did you solve this issue? Since I see in your picture that you are using a similar Manfrotto ball head?

    Kind regards

  8. I was told the flat frames MUST be taken at the same ISO and orientation of the camera and with same focus of your object when you took your lights. With that said is there directions to build a light-box to install on the camera lens?? All I have read are how to build a light-box to fit on the telescope tube, but with fixed tripod astrophotography we do not use a telescope…our lens is the scope so to speak…so I would like to build a small light-box and attach it to my camera lens for flats…any suggestions/

  9. fabulous article. Thank you for taking the time to produce it. We are going to USA in June and will be visiting Pikes Peak, Monument Valley and Yellowstone and hoping for lots of Big Dark Skies on the way. We have a Nikon D5000 with a selection of lens and hoping for some decent pictures.

  10. The Orion Nebula photo gives people the false sense that this is achievable with a standard dlsr and lens. even if u went more top end, say 5dmiii, you’d still need an extremely expensive lens – canons new 50-1000mm is around the $70,000 mark. i find that quite annoying that u fished to intrigue people with a false sense of graspable achievement

    • I have used a Sigma-DG 50-500mm lens and a Canon 70D and have some excellent pictures of Orion. While still costing around 1.5k, that’s no where near the 70k mentioned above

  11. […] How guide: astrophotography dslr – geartacular […]

  12. You said “piggy back your camera onto the telescope.” and that there are adapters for this. Do you know the manufacturers of any of these adapters? I’m using a NIkon D3100 and a Meade ETX 90 telescope. Thanks

  13. I getting into astrophotography with a Pentax K3 ii, does anyone had any tips for using in camera sensor tracking?

  14. Hi guys am a Sony alpha dslt user I got very good photoresults ,and I can say that Sony is also very good in taking such beauties .so all of you start enjoying .main thing while doing astrophotography is that you need a peacefull climate ,then you can choose freelands with less tress and plants ,but the most important fact is that the place shouldn’t be polluted(shouldn’t be a industrial area etc)
    And the best thing is that you have a astronomy studying friend while you take photos .so he can guide you to different directions and show you several important aspects

    • Hi Bharath raj Kartha, I too use a Sony camera but the RAW files are Sony’s own ARW. How do you use these in any software like Deepskystacker or even Photoshop as ARW is not a recognised file? At the moment I am converting every file to TIFF which is time consuming and I don’t know if it gives me the right results.

      • Hi Garry,
        I have just spotted your comment and must say I am somewhat puzzled. I have a Sony a6000 and import my ARW files directly with no conversion necessary. I use the Adobe CC suite including PS of course.

  15. […] fast forward a bit. I’ve gotten bitten by the astrophotography bug again and I ran across this website describing astrophotography with DSLR cameras. I scoffed a bit at how easy the author makes it […]

  16. I just have a quick question that’s probably pretty obvious: so when you align your tracker to polaris, can you then point your dslr towards anything without any other alignment? Is the only alignment that matters is the tracker?

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